Lebensborn e.V. (literally: "Fount of Life") was an SS-initiated,
state-supported, registered association in
Nazi Germany with the goal
of raising the birth rate of "Aryan" children of persons classified as
"racially pure and healthy" based on Nazi racial hygiene and health
Lebensborn provided welfare to its mostly unmarried mothers,
encouraged anonymous births by unmarried women at their maternity
homes, and mediated adoption of these children by likewise "racially
pure and healthy" parents, particularly SS members and their families.
Cross of Honour of the German Mother was given to the women who
bore the most Aryan children. Abortion was legalised by the Nazis for
Initially set up in Germany in 1935,
Lebensborn expanded into several
occupied European countries with Germanic populations during the
Second World War. It included the selection of "racially worthy"
orphans for adoption and care for children born from Aryan women who
had been in relationships with SS members. It originally excluded
children born from unions between common soldiers and foreign women,
because there was no proof of racial purity on both sides. During the
war, many children were kidnapped from their parents and judged by
"aryan" criteria for their suitability to be raised in Lebensborn
homes, and fostering by German families.
At the Nuremberg Trials, much direct evidence was found of the
Kidnapping of children by Nazi Germany, not just in
Poland but across
Greater Germany during the period 1939-45.
4 Post-war trial
6 Self-help groups and aftermath
7 See also
9 Further reading
10 External links
Lebensborn e. V. (e.V. stands for eingetragener Verein or
registered association), meaning "fount of life", was founded on 12
December 1935, to counteract falling birth rates in Germany, and to
promote Nazi eugenics. Located in Munich, the organization was
partly an office within the
Schutzstaffel (SS) responsible for certain
family welfare programs, and partly a society for Nazi leaders.
On 13 September 1936,
Heinrich Himmler wrote the following to members
of the SS:
The organisation "
Lebensborn e.V." serves the SS leaders in the
selection and adoption of qualified children. The organisation
Lebensborn e.V." is under my personal direction, is part of the Race
and Settlement Central Bureau of the SS, and has the following
1. Support racially, biologically and hereditarily valuable families
with many children.
2. Placement and care of racially, biologically and hereditarily
valuable pregnant women, who, after thorough examination of their and
the progenitor's families by the Race and Settlement Central Bureau of
the SS, can be expected to produce equally valuable children.
3. Care for the children.
4. Care for the children's mothers.
It is the honorable duty of all leaders of the central bureau to
become members of the organisation "
Lebensborn e.V.". The application
for admission must be filed prior to 23 September 1936.
In 1939, membership stood at 8,000, of which 3,500 were SS leaders.
Lebensborn office was part of SS Rasse und Siedlungshauptamt (SS
Race and Settlement Main Office) until 1938, when it was transferred
to Hauptamt Persönlicher Stab
Reichsführer-SS (Personal Staff of the
Reichführer-SS), i.e. directly overseen by Himmler. Leaders of
Lebensborn e. V. were SS-Standartenführer Max Sollmann and
SS-Oberführer Dr. Gregor Ebner.
Christening of a
Lebensborn child, c. 1935–1936
Initially the programme served as a welfare institution for wives of
SS officers; the organization ran facilities – primarily
maternity homes – where women could give birth or get help with
family matters. The programme also accepted unmarried women who were
either pregnant or had already given birth and were in need of aid,
provided that both the woman and the father of the child were
classified as "racially valuable". About 60% of the mothers were
unmarried. The program allowed them to give birth secretly away from
home without social stigma. In case the mothers wanted to give up the
children, the program also had orphanages and an adoption service.
When dealing with non-SS members, parents and children were usually
examined by SS doctors before admission.
Lebensborn home (known as 'Heim Hochland') opened in 1936,
in Steinhöring, a tiny village not far from Munich. The first home
outside of Germany opened in
Norway in 1941. Many of these facilities
were established in confiscated houses and former nursing homes owned
by Jews. Leaders of the
League of German Girls
League of German Girls were instructed to
recruit young women with the potential to become good breeding
partners for SS officers.
Lebensborn e. V. established facilities in several occupied
countries, its activities were concentrated around Germany,
occupied northeastern Europe, mainly Poland. The main focus in
Norway was aiding children born to Norwegian women and
fathered by German soldiers. In northeastern Europe the organisation,
in addition to services provided to SS members, engaged in the
transfer of children, mostly orphans, to families in Germany.
Lebensborn e. V. had or planned to have facilities in the following
countries (some were merely field offices):
Poland (General Government – the occupied Polish territory and
annexed lands of Poland): 6 (8 if Stettin and Bad Polzin are
France: 1 (February 1944 – August 1944) – in Lamorlaye
Belgium: 1 (March 1943 – September 1944) – in Wégimont,
in the municipality of Soumagne
About 8,000 children were born in
Lebensborn homes in Germany, and
between 8,000 and 12,000 children in Norway. Elsewhere the total
number of births was much lower. For more information about
Lebensborn in Norway, see war children.
Lebensborn organisation handled approximately 250
adoptions. In most of these cases the mothers had agreed to the
adoption, but not all were informed that their children would be sent
to Germany for adoption. The Norwegian government recovered all but 80
of these children after the war.
Main article: Kidnapping of Polish children by Nazi Germany
Kidnapping of Polish children during the Nazi-German resettlement
Polish children in Nazi-German labour camp in Dzierżązna near Zgierz
In 1939, the Nazis started to kidnap children from foreign
countries – mainly from
Yugoslavia and Poland, but also
including Russia, Ukraine, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Estonia, Latvia,
and Norway – for the
Lebensborn program. They started to do
this because "It is our duty to take [the children] with us to remove
them from their environment... either we win over any good blood that
we can use for ourselves and give it a place in our people or we
destroy this blood," Himmler reportedly said.
The Nazis would take children from their parents, in full view of the
parents. The kidnapped children were administered several tests and
were categorised into three groups:
those considered desirable to be included into the German population,
those who were acceptable, and
The children classified as unwanted were taken to concentration camps
to work or were killed. The children from the other groups, if between
the ages of 2 and 6, were placed with families in the programme to be
brought up by them in a kind of foster child status. Children of ages
6 to 12 were placed in German boarding schools. The schools assigned
the children new German names and taught them to be proud to be part
of Germany. They forced the children to forget their birth parents and
erased any records of their ancestry. Those who resisted Germanisation
were beaten and, if a child continued to rebel, he or she would be
sent to a concentration camp.
In the final stages of the war, the files of all children kidnapped
for the programme were destroyed. As a result, researchers have found
it nearly impossible to learn how many children were taken. The Polish
government has claimed that 10,000 children were kidnapped, and less
than 15% were returned to their biological parents. Other
estimates include numbers as high as 200,000, although according to
Dirk Moses a more likely number is around 20,000.
Max Sollmann ready for trial at Nuremberg
After the war, the branch of the
Lebensborn organisation operating in
north-eastern Europe was accused of kidnapping children deemed
racially valuable in order to resettle them with German families.
However, of approximately 10,000 foreign-born children located after
the war in the American-controlled area of Germany, in the trial of
the leaders of the
Lebensborn organisation (United States of America
v. Ulrich Greifelt, et al.), the court found that 340 had been handled
Lebensborn e. V. The accused were acquitted on charges of
The court found ample evidence of an existing programme of the
kidnapping or forced movement of children in north-eastern Europe, but
concluded that these activities were carried out by individuals who
were not members of Lebensborn. Exactly how many children were moved
Lebensborn or other organisations remains unknown due to the
destruction of archives by SS members prior to fleeing the advancing
From the trial's transcript:
The prosecution has failed to prove with the requisite certainty the
participation of Lebensborn, and the defendants connected therewith in
the kidnapping programme conducted by the Nazis. While the evidence
has disclosed that thousands upon thousands of children were
unquestionably kidnapped by other agencies or organisations and
brought into Germany, the evidence has further disclosed that only a
small percentage of the total number ever found their way into
Lebensborn. And of this number only in isolated instances did
Lebensborn take children who had a living parent. The majority of
those children in any way connected with
Lebensborn were orphans of
ethnic Germans. Upon the evidence submitted, the defendant Sollmann is
found not guilty on counts one and two of the indictment.
After Germany's surrender, the press reported on the unusually good
weight and health of the "super babies". They spent time outdoors in
sunlight and received two baths a day. Everything that came into
contact with the babies was disinfected first. Nurses ensured that the
children ate everything given to them. Until the last days of the
war, the mothers and the children at maternity homes got the best
treatment available, including food, although others in the area were
starving. Once the war ended, local communities often took revenge on
the women, beating them, cutting off their hair, and running them out
of the community. Many
Lebensborn children were born to unwed mothers.
After the war,
Lebensborn survivors were often subjected to
Himmler's effort to secure a racially pure
Greater Germany and sloppy
journalism on the subject in the early years after the war led to
false assumptions about the programme. The main misconception was that
the programme involved coercive breeding. The first stories reporting
Lebensborn was a coercive breeding programme can be found in the
German magazine Revue, which ran a series on the subject in the 1950s.
The 1961 German film Der
Lebensborn purported that young girls were
forced to mate with Nazi men in their camps.
The programme did intend to promote the growth of Aryan populations,
through encouraging relationships between German soldiers and Nordic
women in occupied countries. Access to
Lebensborn was restricted in
accordance with the Nordicist eugenic and racial policies of Nazism,
which could be referred to as supervised selective breeding. Recently
discovered records and ongoing testimony of Lebensborn
children – and some of their parents – shows that some
SS men did sire children in Himmler's
Lebensborn program. This was
widely rumored within Germany during the period of the programme.
Self-help groups and aftermath
Help, recognition, and justice for
Lebensborn survivors have been
In Norway, children born to Norwegian mothers by Nazi fathers were
allegedly often bullied, raped and abused after the war, and placed in
mental institutions. The Norwegian government attempted to deport
Lebensborn to Germany, Brazil, and Australia but did not succeed. A
group of survivors attempted to fight the Norwegian government into
admitting complicity. In 2008, their case before the European Court of
Human Rights was dismissed, but they were each offered a £8,000 token
from the Norwegian government.
In November 2006, in the German town of Wernigerode, an open meeting
took place among several
Lebensborn children, with the intention of
dispelling myths and encouraging those affected to investigate their
Sweden took in several hundred
Lebensborn children from
the war. A famous survivor is Anni-Frid Lyngstad, a member of the
music group ABBA. Her father was a sergeant in the Wehrmacht, and her
mother was Norwegian; to escape persecution after the war, her
grandmother took Anni-Frid to Sweden.
Other countries that had
Lebensborn clinics include France, Belgium,
Poland and Luxembourg.
General documents on
Lebensborn activities are administered by
International Tracing Service
International Tracing Service and by German Federal Archives. The
association Verein kriegskind.de is among those that published search
efforts (Suchbitten) to identify
Nazi Germany portal
European sexuality leading up to and during World War II
Desaparecidos – Children of the Desaparecidos in
taken by the military junta in the
Dirty War and placed with junta
supporters for adoption and raising.
^ Albanese, Patrizia (2006). Mothers of the Nation: Women, Families
and Nationalism in Twentieth-Century Europe. Toronto: University of
Toronto Press. p. 37. ISBN 978-0-8020-9015-7. Retrieved 15
^ a b Bissell, Kate (13 June 2005). "Fountain of Life". BBC Radio 4.
Retrieved 30 September 2011.
^ Office of United States Chief of Counsel For Prosecution of Axis
Criminality (1946). Barrett, Roger W.; Jackson, William E., eds. Nazi
Conspiracy and Aggression [Founding of the organization "Lebensborn
e.V.", 13 September 1936] (PDF). 5. Washington, DC: United States
Government Printing Office. pp. 465–6. Retrieved 16 August
^  Archived 29 March 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
^ Crossland, David (7 November 2006). "Nazi Program to Breed Master
Lebensborn Children Break Silence". Der Spiegel. Hamburg.
Retrieved 15 August 2011.
^ Bydgoszcz, Kraków, Helenówek pod Łodzią, Otwock, Smoszew koło
Krotoszyna, Smoszewo; 8 if you include Stettin and Połczyn-Zdrój
(which became a part of
Poland only after the war)
^ a b Eva Simonsen: "Into the open – or hidden away? – The
construction of war children as a social category in post-war Norway
and Germany" In: NORDEUROPAforum (2006:2), pp. 25–49,
Lebensborn Origination" Archived 18 February 2013 at the
Wayback Machine., Southern Illinois University
^ *"The Lebensborn", Jewish Virtual Library's description of the
Lebensborn Orgization" Archived 18 February 2013 at the Wayback
Machine., Southern Illinois University
^ A. Dirk Moses (2004).
Genocide and Settler Society: Frontier
Violence and Stolen Indigenous Children in Australian History. New
York and Oxford: Berghahn Books. p. 255.
ISBN 978-1-57181-410-4. Retrieved 2008-09-16.
^ Trial of Ulrich Greifelt and Others, United Nations War Crimes
Commission. Part III Archived 15 June 2006 at the Wayback Machine.
^ ""Super Babies": Illegitimate children of SS men are housed in a
German chateau". Life. 15 August 1942. p. 37. Retrieved 12
^ d/europe/article626101.ece "Himmler was my godfather", Times (UK)
Online, 6 November 2006
^ Richard Grunberger, The 12-Year Reich, pp. 246–7,
^ Rob Sharp, "The chosen ones: The war children born to Nazi fathers
in a sinister eugenics scheme speak out", The Independent, 20 January
2008. Retrieved 23 April 2015.
^ "Nazi 'master race' children meet", BBC News, 4 November 2006
^ David Crossland, "Nazi Program to Breed Master Race: Lebensborn
Children Break Silence", Spiegel, 07 November 2006. Retrieved 23 April
^ Kate Connolly, "Torment of the Abba star with a Nazi father", The
Guardian, 29 June 2002. Retrieved 23 April 2015.
^ New "Findbuch" (register) to still existing general
„Lebensborn“-documents its-arolsen.org, site looked at on 30 March
^ "Search efforts (Suchbitten) for Lebensborn-children" Archived 26
June 2012 at the Wayback Machine., kriegskind.de
Clay, Catrine; Leapman, Michael. (1995). Master race: the Lebensborn
experiment in Nazi Germany. Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton,
ISBN 0-340-58978-7. (German version: Herrenmenschen – Das
Lebensborn-Experiment der Nazis. Publisher: Heyne-TB, 1997)
"Children of World War II: the Hidden Enemy Legacy." Ed. Kjersti
Ericsson and Eva Simonsen. New York: Berg Publishers, 2005.
Marc Hillel and Clarissa Henry. Of Pure Blood. Published 1976.
ISBN 0-07-028895-X (French version: Au nom de la race. Publisher:
von Oelhafen, Ingrid; Tate, Tim. (2016) Hitler's Forgotten Children: A
True Story of the
Lebensborn Program and One Woman's Search for Her
Real Identity. New York: Penguin Random House.
Trials of War Criminals – Before the Nuernberg Military Tribunals
Under Control Council Law No. 10. Vol. 5: United States v. Ulrich
Greifelt, et al. (Case 8: 'RuSHA Case'). Publisher: US Government
Printing Office, District of Columbia, 1950.
Thompson, Larry V.
Lebensborn and the
Eugenics Policy of the
Reichsführer-SS. Central European History 4 (1971): 54–77.
Wältermann, Dieter. The Functions and Activities of the Lebensborn
Organization Within the SS, the Nazi Regime, and Nazi Ideology. The
Honors Journal II (1985: 5–23).
Marc Hillel, Au nom de la race, Éditions Fayard, 1975.
Nancy Huston, Lignes de faille, Éd. Actes Sud, 2006.
Nancy Huston, Fault Lines, Atlantic Books,
ISBN 978-1-84354-852-2, 2007.
Katherine Maroger, Les racines du silence, Éditions Anne Carrière,
2008. ISBN 978-2-84337-505-7.
Boris Thiolay: Lebensborn. La fabrique des enfants parfaits. Enqête
sur ces Francais nés dans les maternités SS. (Titel aus dem
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eigenen Biographie – ein Lebensbornschicksal. Published: 2002.
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(the authoritative resource on
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Published: Aschehoug 1998. ISBN 82-03-29090-6).
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Zeit-Punkte 3/2001 zum Thema Biomedizin, pp. 16–18.
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Nationalsozialismus. Published: Digitale Bibliothek, CD-ROM, Band 25,
Directmedia GmbH, Berlin.
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Lebensbornkinder und ihrer Mütter von 1940 bis heute. Campus,
Frankfurt 2002, ISBN 3-593-37002-6
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Lebensborn.
Nazi Program to Breed Master Race,
Lebensborn Children Break Silence
Spiegel Online International
Lebensborn Organization" Southern Illinois University
Trial of Ulrich Greifelt and others Law Reports of the Trials of War
Criminals, United Nations War Crimes Commission, London 1949 (copy at
University of the West of England website)
"The Lebensborn" Jewish Virtual Library's description of the
"Himmler was my godfather" An online press article
The Last Nazis: Children of the Master Race BBC documentary about the
Third Reich Poster Child Portrait of a
Lebensborn child in EXBERLINER
National Archival Services of Norway
Chief of German Police
Minister of the Interior
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